7 Ways to Make Doing Your Taxes Less Painful and More Mindful

Unless you’re one of the five percent of Americans who like or even love doing their taxes—or you’re expecting a nice refund—chances are you’re still procrastinating. But what if you turned your tax refund (or any other challenging task you're putting off) into a reminder to focus on your strengths, reassess your values, and get centered?

We asked our faculty for advice, and came up with seven tactics for deducting some stress from the days leading up to April 15, or for tackling any big goal you want to get off your plate.

1. Use your strengths.

Megha Nancy Buttenheim, a Kripalu Yoga teacher who is also on faculty for Wholebeing Institute’s Certificate in Positive Psychology program, relies on her signature strengths to get through tax prep. (To find out your top strengths, take the free VIA survey.)

“VIA strengths are great professional, emotional, and health-building tools,” says Megha. “When it comes to taxes, I find myself calling on the strengths of self-regulation, prudence, and even forgiveness—because I need to forgive myself for procrastinating!”

According to the VIA Institute, we each have all of the 24 character strengths, but some come more naturally to us than others. How can you activate your top strengths to support doing your taxes—or anything else you don’t love? Can your strengths of humor, love of learning, or teamwork (applicable for joint returns!) get you through it?

2. Take movement breaks.

“When I am in the midst of a maelstrom of numbers, addition, subtraction, and all, I try to give myself as many health breaks as I can,” says Megha. Because she’s all about movement (she’s the creator of Let Your Yoga Dance and Let Your Yoga Dance for Parkinson’s), her health breaks tend to involve movement.

Megha has created a series of five-minute guided movement videos, each inspired by a VIA strength. “I like to move with my strengths, rather than simply write or talk about them. I’m using embodied strengths this month to help me get taxes done in a sane, gentle way, step by step.”

Try this movement experience with Megha to tune in to the strength of perseverance.

3. Get centered first.

Kripalu Schools teacher trainer Michelle Dalbec has created a little ritual that helps her start the tax-prep process in a peaceful state of mind. Here’s how she does it:

“I set aside a specific time and space where it will be quiet and undisturbed,” she says. “I make tea, which represents warmth and nourishment for me. Then I light a candle, which represents illumination—for both my mind and the path that will lead me to the end of doing my taxes. Finally, I spend a few minutes working with my breath, especially Nadi Shodhana, which is calming, soothing, grounding, and, most importantly, clarifying for the mind.”

Sarajean Rudman, who also teaches for the Kripalu Schools and Kripalu R&R, suggests doing a simple breath-counting meditation for about 10 minutes before you dive in. “Find a calm place to relax, and begin by sitting comfortably and closing your eyes,” she says. “Every time you inhale, count that breath as one. Then exhale on two, inhale on three, and so on, until you reach 50, and then begin going backwards. Once you return to zero, sit for a few moments and just breathe. As thoughts come into your mind, let them float away. This will calm you down psychologically, physically, and emotionally.”

4. Reframe the stress.

Like most of us, Michelle finds the tax prep process stressful—so she works toward transforming that stress into what’s known as eustress, or positive, productive stress.

“I attempt to shift the stress into energy, and harness it to work in my favor,” she says.

Her approach is borne out by research. Alison Brooks of Harvard Business School studied how people reacted to stress and anxiety related to karaoke singing, public speaking, and doing math. She found that people who reframed their performance anxiety as “excitement” performed better than those who tried to calm down.

Michelle also reframes tax stress by “finding meaning in the process,” she says. “It might be acknowledging that paying taxes means that I made money, and making money means that I am independent or that I am supporting my family.”

5. Give yourself permission to be human.

For some of us, a hard deadline (for tax returns, that would be April 17 this year) is the only thing that motivates us. And that’s okay.  

When it comes to taxes, “I give myself permission to be human—in other words, I allow myself to be confused, frustrated, and call it quits and start again another day,” says Michelle.

Acknowledging and accepting your resistance, rather rationalizing it, can help you move through the stages of tax preparation, which weirdly align with those of grief.

“We learn over time to recognize that exploring resistance is where the real juice is, where the realm of insight and freedom lies,” says Kripalu presenter Jonathan Foust (Sudhir). “As far as I can tell, it's a never-ending process. As Ram Dass said after an entire life dedicated to meditation and yoga, ‘I’m as neurotic as I ever was, only now I'm friends with my neurosis.’” There’s still time to make friend with your taxes.

6. Break it down and clear it out.

Certified life coach and Kripalu R&R faculty Izzy Lenihan describes taxes as a de-cluttering task. “Undoing clutter helps you create space,” Izzy says. “Clutter is the energy that’s holding you back and keeping you heavy. It’s often identified as an energy drainer, so deal with it the way you deal with any energy drainer: Break it down into bite-sized pieces. If the step is too big, you won’t do it!”

As an incentive, keep in mind how good it will feel to get this task off your plate. What great new thing might you find time for once your taxes are filed—or what clutter will you be inspired to clear next once this is out of the way?

“Stagnant things in our lives keep us in a kind of a prison,” Izzy says. “But if you can make room in your environment, head, and heart, you can consciously make choices to invite new and amazing possibilities into your life.”

7. Remind yourself of what’s truly important.

“Worrying about, organizing, and dealing with money are some of the most stressful things in anybody’s life,” Sarajean says. “So when it comes time to do your taxes, this money stress and anxiety can go from a nagging little voice to a screaming metal band in your face.”

To muffle the roar, Sarajean uses tax time as an opportunity to reassess her values. Here’s her approach:

  1. Make a list of 30 or 40 positive attributes you see in yourself.
  2. Then make a second list of 30 to 40 positive attributes that others see in you.
  3. From each list, circle the top 10 attributes that resonate most with you, and place them in order from most important to least important.
  4. From those two lists, re-read the attributes and look for body cues. Ask yourself, “Does that attribute resonate with me? Is this really important?” If the answer is yes, keep it on the list; if not, cross it off.
  5. From the remainder of the two lists, pick the top five that resonate most with you and organize them from most to least important.
  6. For each attribute, which is now a value (such as education, creativity, family-oriented, playful, responsible, loving, connected with nature), write a sentence about something you are doing in your life that supports that value.

“Money almost never comes up as a true value, though financial responsibility might,” Sarajean says. “Then you get to write next to that value that you are doing your taxes to stay on top of your finances, empowering the necessary action and giving it a deeper purpose. I find this to be a gentle and sweet reminder of what is really important in my life.”

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